Martin Whitmarsh has had first-hand experience of various World Champions, but for him, Lewis Hamilton and Ayrton Senna stand above the rest.
Whitmarsh worked with a number of the sport’s modern greats during his time at McLaren and went up against many others.
While the Brit rates most of them extremely highly, Hamilton and Senna stand out in his eyes.
“I’ve got many happy memories of Jenson Button, Mika [Hakkinen], Kimi Räikkönen, Juan Pablo Montoya, even Fernando [Alonso]. Extraordinary people in many ways,” he told MotorsportMagazine.com.
“But the two who hover in my personal experience, that have had this aura of ‘incredibleness’, were Ayrton Senna and Lewis. When I met Ayrton he had that already, but when I first met Lewis he didn’t.
“It has grown, and it’s all his doing, his achievement. I was fortunate to have been close to the journey.”
With Hamilton surpassing Michael Schumacher’s win-tally and set to match his record of seven World Championships, the debate as to which of them is the GOAT is hotter than ever. One thing is for sure, Hamilton is always a favourite when it comes to betting on F1.
Whitmarsh however, says that he’s unable to have an unbiased opinion due to his contrasting personal experiences with the two.
“I could never relate to Schumacher in the way maybe I should have done. He was always the foe, the dirty one trying to cheat against my driver, so I’m not balanced about Michael,” he added.
“Lewis is ruthless, but he wants to win in a genuinely honest and honourable way. I don’t think that mattered to Schumacher.
“You have got to admire people who maintain a degree of innocence and sincerity, like Lewis and Mika, who never pulled a dirty move.”
One of Schumacher’s said dirty moves came on the McLaren of Hakkinen at the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix, when he forced the Finn onto the grass on the straight.
Hakkinen passed the German a lap later, and Whitmarsh still remembers the battle and what he did in the aftermath of it.
“One of the things I used to have in my office was the broken endplate from that race, complete with Michael’s tyre marks,” he said.
“After the race, as I came out of scrutineering I had it taken off and threw it at Charlie [Whiting], with whom I’d been remonstrating that Schumacher was going to kill a driver. I was so incensed.
“About six months later a package arrived, with no compliment slip, returning it! I put it in a cupboard in my office and it’s something I wish I’d taken when I left McLaren.
“It was a glorious moment because it was good triumphing over bad, and it also happened to be an extraordinary move.”